Province cuts funding for controversial police unit

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Tom Godfrey By Tom Godfrey
Thursday September 17 2015




There is a sigh of relief from residents in many at-risk communities now that an unpopular Toronto Police unit is being phased out.

The Ontario government last week slashed funds for the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) following heated and repeated complaints from community members over its officers’ widespread use of carding.

Many people welcomed the news as funding was almost cut in half from $5 million to about $2.6 million effective in January for TAVIS, a specialized crime-fighting initiative created after the so-called Summer of the Gun.

The TAVIS units are used to patrol high-risk communities and its officers are accused by residents of the widespread use of carding in trying to control or investigate crimes, including shootings that occur in some areas.

There have been repeated calls by the community for TAVIS units to be disbanded for its treatment and carding of Black and brown-skinned youths. The records of 1.3 million men obtained from street checks are currently stored in police databases.

Advocates claim incidents of street checks increased significantly against Black youth with the formation of TAVIS.

“We welcome this move to cut funding to TAVIS by the province,” said Kingsley Gilliam of the Black Action Defense Committed (BADC). “The community has been calling for the complete disbanding of this police unit for a long time.”

BADC and other groups have long blasted the program that places a large deployment of officers into troubled areas, in what is known as targeted policing.

Activists said the province, in a bid to improve the strained relationship between police and the Black community, seems to be moving to pro-active, community-based policing and away from a reactionary, hardline “arrest them all” approach that has not worked.

More focus is being placed on crime-prevention and working with community groups for crime prevention and youth engagement, social workers said.

Anthony Morgan, of the African Canadian Legal Clinic, welcomes the budget reduction and phasing out of TAVIS.

“TAVIS has damaged the Black community by making members feel unsafe and unwelcome in their very own neighbourhoods,” Morgan told Share. “Enhancing and maintaining community safety and security is done through long-term and sustainable funding and development of initiatives that get to the root of crime.”

He said the provincial government can do much to improve the lives of vulnerable people.

“We hope to see the Ontario government move towards redirecting the millions wasted on over-policing and criminalization of Black people into enhancing education, job-creation, child-care, arts and recreation and public transportation in our communities,” Morgan said in a statement.

Chief Mark Saunders said TAVIS is a much-needed police tool whose members will still be deployed to probe crime in high-risk areas.

Saunders credited the unit for helping to obtain intelligence to monitor and arrest street gang members.

An official of the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services said the government has changed its approach and is working with the community to make improvements.

“We believe that the best way to prevent crime and keep our communities safe is to work with local groups and prioritize community-based crime prevention and youth engagement by giving communities the ability to allocate funding where it’s needed most,” a government official told the Toronto Star.

TAVIS was formed in response to a rise in gun violence in 2005, when 67 per cent of the city’s 78 homicides were gun-related, a rate double that of the previous year. It has three teams, each consisting of 18 high-visibility, “rapid response” officers, who are credited with reducing violence in crime-ridden areas.

The unit has been the subject of many protests and marches by groups including BADC, Black Lives Matter, Jane Finch Action Against Poverty, Toronto Sex Workers Action Project, Network for the Elimination of Police Violence, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, Rights Watch Network and the International People’s Uhuru Movement.

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